b mckinney golf dec. 20

Bob McKinney (left) and Scott Masters (right.)

When I was a young boy, there was a common saying among folks of my parents’ generation: 

“He (or she) will go to heaven for that if nothing else.”  

It was typically said in response to someone demonstrating patience. A good example would be Mr. Martin, the jeweler at the store where I worked when I was in high school. He taught me to drive the store-owned car with standard transmission so I could make deliveries.  

For two days, I held up traffic all over town while miraculously failing to burn up the clutch as the longsuffering gentleman sat in the passenger seat as I shifted – if not grinded -- gears 

I have no doubt, if it did not earn him admission to his eternal reward, it certainly merited jewels in his crown.  

(Please don’t send emails explaining theology. It’s just a saying. 

Long beyond my high school days, another candidate for the great beyond has equaled if not surpassed Mr. Martin in my life. That would be one Scott Masters, who has had the dubious distinction – if not the misfortune -- of teaching (or trying to teach) yours truly to play golf.  

Stealing from another cliché, the man has the patience of a saint 

Scott lives in Nolensville with his wife Brittney and two children. An accomplished golfer herself, Brittney played at Brentwood High School and Lipscomb University. She and Scott met when she was membership director for the Tennessee PGA. 

Scott grew up in Knoxville. When he was eight years old, his dad started teaching him golf at Holston Hills Country Club there. He played high school golf at Knoxville Central and on his college team at Tennessee Tech.  

An imposing feet 6inches tall, Scott towers over me. He presented an intimidating first impression. 

But with his easy, friendly teaching style, I was immediately at ease. The problem has never been with my instructor 

Started with soul searching 

The decision to learn something new came in the spring of this year. Newly vaccinated, I was starting to emerge from cocoon-like living 

The semi-isolation of the pandemic had caused some introspection. What did I want to spend my time doing and who did I want to do it with? What did I value?  

These were some of the questions I asked myself while feeling oppressed by the coronavirus. One of my answers was, I thought I would like to take up golf. In so doing, I could spend time with my two sons and son-in-law, as well as friends, who play the game 

My main hobbies have taken place largely in solitude. I thought I needed something that would involve interaction with others.  

Since there is a website for everything these days, I found one where I could seek a golf instructor  

submitted a narrative explaining how I would be a beginner. I disclosed my, ahem, advanced age. I added that I have never been athletic, but I consider myself teachable.  

That probably eliminated most golf coaches looking for students, and rightfully so. But one, my new friend Scott, took the bait. 

In his response, he told me he lives in NolensvilleWith me in Brentwood, we’re practically neighbors, (relatively speaking.)  

But neighbors or not, Scott operates his golf school, Masters Learning Center, LLC, under contract with the Old Hickory Country Club. He said he would be glad to have me as a student, but it would require driving to Old Hickory for lessons. That’s about 40 minutes up Interstate 65 from my home.  

I decided I could make the drive the few times (I thought) it would take to learn the basics. Then, as I embarked upon my new hobby, I could play at courses nearer my home. 

Some six months and nine lessons later (with one remaining in my ten-lesson package), I have yet to play a round of golf, although I have visited driving ranges and practiced numerous times.  

My experience can be largely summed up by sharing a couple of my exchanges with Scott.  

After lesson six (or thereabouts), when three consecutive times I had had the good fortune of hitting the ball into the air and having it go airborne and straight, Scott suggested putting more time between lessons. (I had been going an average of every two weeks. 

Go hit at the driving range, doing what I’ve taught you, and if you have a chance, play nine holes,” he told me. Work on your grip and practice your stance and your swing while looking in a mirror.”  

He told me to call when I thought I was ready for another lesson.   

I did as he instructed, minus the nine holes because I simply didn’t have the nerve to embarrass myself that way, and I knew I could not afford to rent an entire golf course so nobody else would see me 

But I went to driving ranges. I hit – or took swings at – hundreds of balls.  About six weeks later I scheduled another lesson with Scott.   

At the end of that one, he suggested I return in a week.  

I reminded him he had said I should space out my lessons more.  

“I was wrong,” he replied in a deadpan – but kind – voice 

I think, at this time, he was beginning to understand what he had gotten himself into.   

Although early on he had told me he was sure “we can get you moving and enjoying the game” (he put it in writing), I can’t help but believe he is wondering if perhaps he has met the biggest challenge of his career as a golf instructor.   

It’s all about the grip 

During my first lesson in June, I never took a swing. Scott spent the entire hour teaching me how to grip the golf club and how to stand in preparation for swinging.  

We’re nine lessons in and still working on the grip. Scott has taken pictures of me holding it the right way so I can try to replicate it when I am not with him.  

He tells me if I don’t grip the club correctly, in a way that involves an interlocking of the hands and fingers that hardly comes natural to me, I will never be able to play effectively.  

With God as my witness, I have practiced between lessons. I have looked at the pictures and tried to do exactly as my coach has taught me.  

But at every lesson, we end up with Scott putting his hands on mine and moving them around the club so I might finally get it. And we’re not there yet.  

Did I mention how patient he is?  

Of course, we have been over everything else, too – the backswing, the downswing and the follow-through. I should keep my knees slightly bent and my posterior slightly out.  

There is the way I am supposed to de-emphasize my shoulders as I swing the club, and how I am supposed to keep my head down and never lose sight of the ball 

(Scott might or might not occasionally hold onto my head as I swing. 

He assures me golf is frustrating for everyone who plays the game, and my consistent inconsistency is not unusual.  

Like the natural teacher he is, he always finds something encouraging to say. And I know that is not always easy.  

Lessons bigger than golf 

Where I go from here with golf is still in question.  

Am I willing to spend the time it will take to reach the point I can play without making a fool of myself? I plan to still have a day job for a few more years, so the time I can devote to practicing (which I sorely need) is limited.  

Can I overcome my self-consciousness, stop worrying about being humiliated and enjoy the game (as my coach assured me I can) 

As I said earlier, I am no athlete. Nothing about body agility has ever come easily to me.  

Upon returning from my last practice-range outing, I confessed to my wife the discouragement I was feeling, wondering aloud why I had thought this would be a good idea.  

But, just as the pandemic has been instructive on various levels, so have golf lessons.  

Being a student again has been eye-opening, and I’ve learned, if not re-learned, some things about myself.  

While my coach is patient, I know I am not. I am hard on myself and easily become frustrated, apparently having the idea I should be able to quickly learn something completely new to me.   

At my age, one would think I would have learned how important practice is, and how, if I really want to learn a new skill, it will take time – a lot of it.  

Worst of all, just as when I was in school, I have a terrible tendency to “help” my teacher. I will speak to him, and even interrupt him at times, as if I have mastered this game and I can assist him in the process. Frankly, I don’t know why he has tolerated it.   

But again, being a natural teacher, he looks past my foolishness, having the good sense to simply ignore me, and gets me back on track.   

On the positive side, I have been reminded how learning is a lifelong processand I still love learning 

And not only am I learning something newcontinue to learn about myself. I hope to use that in a positive way.  

Infrequently, but on occasion, when I hear the whack of the club face as it makes contact with the ball as it supposed to do, and see that ball sail through the air, I feel a quickening of my heartbeat and a slight sense of satisfaction. Maybe I am, in fact, learning something.   

When I asked Scott his favorite part of his work as a golf instructor, he said it was “seeing the improvement in golfers and watching them enjoy playing the game more often and grow in their own game.”  

When it comes to golf, I don’t know how much improvement, enjoyment or growth there has been on my part 

But hopefully there has been, and will continue to be, some incremental progress.  

That would all be thanks to my coach, who certainly deserves to go to heaven for that if nothing else 

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected] 

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather.